Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre tries something new
By Aubrey Ann Parker
“In nature, there’s no blemish but the mind;
None can be called deformed but the unkind.”
Once again, strange folk descend upon the forest of our fair Tank Hill to haunt us with epic tales of tragedy and then, with a change of outfit, beguile us with raucous comedies. They call themselves actors; others call them thespians. They worship strange creatures, but none stranger than the one they call the Bard, who compels them to act out his plots for days on end, in rain or blistering heat, with little rehearsal. He pays them naught but in the cheers or jeers or tears of their beggar audience.
Back for their 13th season, the Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre will again be performing one tragedy (A Winter’s Tale) and one comedy (The Rivals) in Frankfort on alternating evenings from July 26 through August 5 (with the exception of taking one night off on August 1).
The ravages of jealousy are redeemed by the magic of forgiveness in A Winter’s Tale, a late romance from the Bard that will be led by director Scott Cummins (previous director of Cymbeline, Richard III, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet and 2011’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Meanwhile, The Rivals is a rollicking restoration comedy, featuring forbidden love, mistaken identity, and outsized characters, including the hilarious butcher of the English language, Mrs. Malaprop. This is the first year that Lakeside Shakepeare Theatre will present a non-Shakespeare play, this one coming from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, one of the Bard’s literary descendants. This comedy is directed by Jeff Christian (previous director of Romeo & Juliet, As You Like It, Love’s Labor Lost, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona).
The idea of Elizabeth Laidlaw as a way of connecting Chicago’s thriving theatrical community with both the full-time and seasonal residents of Benzie County, LST began in 2003. Every year since, a team of two dozen or so actors, stage managers, sound-effect gurus, and directors has spent two weeks rehearsing and performing here in the northland, in addition to about six weeks of rehearsals in Chicago before they get here.
This year, the company will begin rehearsing in Benzie County on Sunday, July 24, starting practice at 10 a.m. and ending around 1 p.m. A short break for the peak of summer heat in the afternoon—during which, most cast members apparently nap—they then run through more rehearsals from 5 until 10 p.m. On Monday, July 25, the cast then does it all over again.
Given that the preview performances on Tuesday and Wednesday, July 26 and 27, are full dress rehearsals that are attended by the public, that means they haveve been in Benzie County just over 48 hours before they begin performing.
Fortunately, many of the actors are seasoned at this. Sure they have “newbies” each year, but the company also has several “veteran” actors, some who have been with LST more or less since the beginning.
As for why audiences keep coming back—and why they are growing to now include patrons from Manistee, Charlevoix, Traverse City, and beyond—LST’s troop attribute the quality of the productions. They talk about LST’s approach to Shakespeare with terms like “accessibility” and “reach.” Oh, and “fun.”
“We don’t make it something that people can’t grasp or attach themselves to,” Laidlaw says. “The experience of seeing Shakespeare outside is fun. So you’ve got an excellent, high-quality production, fantastic actors, and a very approachable experience to some of the greatest plays ever written.”
A Winter’s Tale
King Leontes of Sicilia begs his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, to extend his visit. But Leontes becomes convinced that his pregnant wife, Hermione, has had an affair with Polixenes and that the child she carries is not his. So the Sicilian king orders his servant to poison the Bohemian king, but the servant warns Polixenes instead, and the two men flee Sicilia.
Leontes then throws his wife in prison. Once born, her child is left in the wild. When Leontes sends for the Oracle of Delphi to tell him the truth, it turns out that the child actually was his all along. Moreover, the Oracle reveals that Leontes will have no heir until his lost daughter is found. At this time, Leontes’s son and wife both die of heartbreak.
The daughter, Perdita, is raised by a kindly shepherd. Eighteen years pass, and the son of Polixenes, Prince Florizel, falls in love with her. When the young couple become engaged, Polixenes plots to foil the pending wedding, ordering his son never to see the shepherd’s daughter again. The young couple run off together for Sicilia, where Leontes is still mourning after all this time. What happens next? You will have to come to find out how this tale of treachery, love, and forgiveness ends!
In the resort town of Bath, two servants—Mr. Fag, servant to Captain Jack Absolute, and Thomas, coachman to Sir Anthony Absolute (Jack’s father)—meet in the streets and reveal that Jack is in love with the wealthy, young Lydia Languish, who desperately desires to elope with her impoverished beau, Ensign Beverley (who is actually Jack in disguise).
Lydia pines for a love affair resembling those in the stories that she reads, but she stands to lose her fortune if she marries a man of whom her aunt does not approve before she comes of age. Even worse, Lydia is not interested in any man who would be willing to wait for her money before marrying her—hence Jack’s impersonation of the poor Ensign Beverley.
Meanwhile, Sir Anthony visits his son, Jack, and informs him that he intends to give him a vast estate, but only if he agrees to accept the wife of his father’s choosing. Jack declines, infuriating his father. But as it turns out, Sir Anthony’s choice of wife was Lydia all along!
Now that Jack knows he is being “forced” to marry the girl that he loves, he pretends to repent for his disrespectful behavior toward his father. But Lydia infuriates her aunt by continuing to profess her love for Beverley, while Jack pretends not to be jealous of his “rival” Beverley (since it is himself).
A lot of confusion and misdirection and pretending to be someone else ensues, until Jack finally reveals himself to a shocked Lydia, to which she calls off the marriage and vows never to see him again.
Will she keep her promise or will true love conquer all? Come to LST’s performance to find out!
A professional, not-for-profit theatre company of Chicago actors and directors, Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre performs exclusively in Benzie County. A Winter’s Tale will be performed July 28, 30, August 2, and 4, with a preview performance on July 26.
Feature photo: Shakespeare is fun for all ages. Photo courtesy of Liv Buzzell/OB & Co Productions and Lakeside Shakespeare Theatre.